The delights of being a butterfly reader

“When we’ve moved house,” I said to my husband one evening, as I read books in bed, “can I have a little bookshelf above my bedside table?” My husband looked over at my bedside table; two tall columns of books were stacked up precariously.

“What’s wrong with putting them on the bedside table?” he asked.

“They don’t fit.” I replied. And it was true, the bedside table was beyond capacity – these are the problems faced when you are a butterfly reader*, dipping in and out of a number of books and with a host of titles on the go at any given time, like a butterfly, that flits between flowers.


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When I was a child, I went through a phase of sleeping with my books under my pillow; I arranged them like tiles but had to abandon the practice when there were so many that the pillow was too high and too firm for me to be able to sleep comfortably. I loved to lift my pillow and see all of the books arranged underneath; it was the same thrill as lifting a paving slab and disturbing a microcosm of insects – a hidden world.

For as long as I can remember, I have made a new year’s resolution to read no more than two books at once – one fact, and one fiction. The resolution has always fallen by the wayside and I am currently reading about 10 books- considerably whittled down from the 16 titles that I had on the go in June.

Reading multiple books at once enables me to always have to hand a book to suit my mood. I seldom, if ever, utter the words “I don’t feel like reading” because there will always be something in my ‘on the go’ stacks that will take my fancy, from children’s books to poetry, classics to politics.

Moreover, why limit myself to one adventure when I can have several? In one evening, from the comfort of my own home, I drift down the Grand Canal of Venice in a gondola, I glide on a broomstick alongside Mildred Hubble as we fly around Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches, I traipse through the landscape of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, I skim across a snowy Russian landscape in a sleigh alongside Anna Karenina, I eavesdrop on James Bond’s conversation as he sips a vodka martini at a bar – shaken, not stirred. And all the while, I am sitting at home, the cat asleep on my lap and my stacks of books teetering on my bedside table.

I adore the adventure, the possibilities and the infinity of reading. Why would I limit myself to reading only one or two books at once? Variety, after all, is the spice of life.


*Footnote – I have coined the term ‘butterfly reader’ for the purpose of describing the practice of dipping in and out of several books at once. If you are aware of an existing word or term to describe this then I’d love to hear about it!


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